Turkjazz & Russian Musical liberation

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Lahav Shani, Conductor

David Bilger, trumpet

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia March 24


conductor-pianist Lahav Shani

(photo: Marco Broogreve)


800x1200Shani(Marco_Broggreve)In March, Israeli conductor Lahav Shani made an impressive Philadelphia Orchestra debut with a substantive program that showed, among other things, his interpretive range of repertory, in this case Stravinsky’s Firebird and Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, already ambitious, and a piece by classical-jazz fusionist composer Christian Lindberg. Based on his concerts here it is no surprise that  29- year old conductor  is succeeding Yannick Nezet-Seguin this year as chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and is also conductor designate of the Israeli Philharmonic and following the towering tenure  Zubin Mehta in 2020-21.

Swedish composer Lindberg’s Akbank Bunka for trumpet and chamber orchestra, transcribed here for the full Philadelphia Orchestra with principle trumpet David Bilger the soloist. Lindberg has faint echoes of from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain to Ravel and risks a pastiche quality. During Akbank, the first movement, the solo trumpet seems in its own zone, and Bilger projecting a pristine, even studied precision. The work bursts open up midway through, with staccato note runs and steely voicings by Bilger that just engulf the concert hall and soar in concert with the orchestra, with driving interlocks and sonic vaults and blue note eloquence. Then Lindberg’s second and third movements, Turkjazz, just break out into a rowdy percussive soundfield and Bilger’s blazing horn as cool as the midnight sun.

From the first rumbling basso architecture of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’  Shani summoned Stravinsky’s earthy, atmospheric symphonic power. The ballet score has lost none of its luster 100 years later  in this 1919 ‘Suite’  when it is conjured in such vivid and seductive orchestral magic.  Shani brings out its dynamic rhythmic drive, clearly and subtly, there is translucence that reveals feral flight of  The Firebird that soars on the lushness of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s famous strings. Jeffrey Khaner flute igniting this Firebird with mythic purpose and luminous power.

Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, composed during WWII, when Sergei was under the complete control of Stalin’s music union aka his board of censors dispatched to kill works for being too polluted with western ideas and condemning composers out of favor, based on dictates by Stalin. Prokofiev was in favor having produced film scores to Eisenstein’s films Ivan, the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, and was under state commission to write the nationalist opera adaptation of War And Peace.

The 5th was an immediate hit and like the other works of this period Prokofiev was able to subvert the restrictions on ‘Western’ music. His music of this era had USSR requisite Nationalist bombast to cover for Prokofiev’s inner humanist and emotionally expressive ideas roiling below the surface, a tucked into the chamber mise-en-scenes. A hidden artistic statement aimed at freeing the hearts and souls of the Russian people, beyond the tyrant Stalin and his oppressive regime.

In this performance, the first movement struck as a bit diffuse. But the Allegro and Adagio movements were crystalline and engulfing Verizon Hall with Prokofiev’s soulful narrative, which Shani brought in its full dimensions.